Anger mounts in Istanbul, Athens as blizzard causes chaos
Freak snowstorm grounds travelers
Published: Jan 26, 2022 06:52 PM
Passengers walk through the new hall of Istanbul Airport on April 6. Photo: VCG

Passengers walk through the new hall of Istanbul Airport on April 6. Photo: VCG

Stranded passengers chanted protests at Europe's busiest airport in Istanbul on Tuesday and soldiers dug out snowed-in drivers in Athens as a rare blizzard stirred up anger and wrought chaos across swathes of the eastern Mediterranean.

Istanbul officials ordered all private vehicles off the slushy streets and Athenians abandoned their cars in drifting snow as basic services such as food delivery in both cities ground to a halt.

The problems were compounded in Athens and across some of Greece's scenic islands by power cuts in the unusual winter freeze.

"I have had no electricity since Monday evening," pensioner Dionyssis Kiourkakis told AFP in Athens. 

"This is shameful. If I were younger, I would leave Greece."

Yet much of the international attention focused on the fate of Istanbul's main airport, a gleaming glass-and-steel structure that is a flight connection hub for many international flights. 

A blizzard on Monday saw the first ever closure of Istanbul airport since it took over from the old Ataturk Airport as the new hub for Turkish Airlines in 2019.

The first flight since Monday afternoon landed from the Venezuelan capital Caracas after one of the runways was cleared to accept a few flights. 

But the other two runways remained snowed under and just a handful of the hundreds of delayed flights were scheduled to take off or land on Tuesday.

Istanbul Airport serviced more than 37 million passengers in 2021 despite disruptions caused by the coronavirus disease pandemic.

It first grabbed the title of Europe's busiest airport in 2020 thanks to Turkey's decision to allow travelers to freely enter the country in a bid to boost tourism revenues.

Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport came in second in 2021 by accepting nearly 31 million passengers.

Traditional capitals of European travel before the pandemic, including London and Paris, have seen their passenger numbers implode as global carriers rearrange their flight patterns to fit the new realities.

Yet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's critics had long questioned his decision to place the airport on a remote patch along the Black Sea coast that is often covered by fog in winter.

Istanbul's second airport on its Asian side near the Sea of Marmara stayed open throughout the storm.

Numerous passengers stuck aboard stranded flights took to Twitter to air their grievances with the airport's customer service and lack of updates.

"Not even a bottle of water offered. Zero concern for women with children," user Chris Wiggett wrote in a typical tweet.

The situation appeared to be just as chaotic in Greece. 

Officials reported that a "superhuman" effort had managed to clear a number of vehicles that were stranded along the main highway.